Thirteen Weeks, 6 Days ~ June 1, 2004
~ Happy Birthday to me!
So, my birthday was last weekend. I'm now 38. I don't feel 38, but then, I don't think I felt 2 when I was 2, either.
My birthday this year didn't seem a big event for me. I kept forgetting that it was there. I spent time with my husband and sons, playing outside, eating popsicles on the porch. And I got a new tape player for my car from Will, who also installed it. He also re-taped one of my favorite mixed tapes for me, as a surprise. I got in the car, and there it was. What a sweetie.
Some hand-made cards from my sons, a smooshy but spot-on card from my mom, and a brief chat with one of my best friends (whose birthday is the same day, three years younger) - that was pretty much it for the parties. The family party, with my brother-in-law (birthday also the same day), my father-in-law (the day after), and two nieces (one at the beginning of May, the other at the end, on our anniversary), will take place on the holiday weekend. That's when the presents will show up en-masse. For now, the gifts are smaller, and more personal.
My attention was also somewhat focused elsewhere - not on my own presents, not on how old I am, or what I'm likely to get when the big party arrives. No, my attention was rather on the next generation. This time, not on my own offspring, either! My sister-in-law is coming up to her due date (one week shy), and has been in and out of labor for days. She wasn't a happy camper. But she did give me the opportunity to try to help, to offer everything at my command, from helping with her daughter, to bringing food, to loaning her my hypnotherapy tapes. Anything, to be a resource to her or my brother, to pick up the slack, fill in the gaps, make up for the lack of energy and focus because their focus was rightly aimed elsewhere.
In the gaps and on the sidelines, outside the main zone of support provided by her excellent OB and her husband (my big brother), we waited. We listened for the beep of cell phone, checked regularly with one-another for news updates, passing messages from my brother to the others who cared about this birth, this child to come. Any opening or slack spot perceived was met with friends and family brainstorming to come up with things to patch the gap. Will offered to mow their lawn, we offered dinner, we juggled schedules so that someone would always be available to watch their daughter.
That process made me think about the experience of childbearing - not just of labor, but of the support systems into which we place ourselves when we become pregnant. I suppose they are always there, but they become so very important at this time.
There is the obvious, of course - the doctor or midwife you choose. Boy, I remember the questions that come with that choice. How do they fit with me, do they believe what I do? Do they want what I want? Do they have the experience I need? Do they listen? Do they push me outside my comfortable box in a good way? Or is it in a bad way? Do they challenge me to think and prepare, mentally, emotionally, physically, spiritually? What is their job, and what are the limits that I expect from them . and what limits do they expect to work within, as well? Do I like them? Do I trust them? There is so much that goes into the decision of who to choose. I remember the concern I had the first time, wanting someone who understood what my needs were, what I wanted, someone who would advocate for me if things got tough, but who was also tough enough to state the realities if I needed to step outside my expectations.
When I started, I thought that was all there was to it. The OB (or midwife), and my husband.
I guess we're all kind of stuck with the partner or lack thereof. I am lucky - I have one who is interested and involved, someone who kicks in at the tough spots, and helps out for real. And yet, there are other things that need support, other aspects beyond just what my husband offers me. For many of my friends, their partner is not the main resource even then - their mother, a sister, a friend may play that role. But that role still finds someone, for nearly everyone I know.
One of the rules Will and I made clear early in our relationship was that no one person can be all things to the other, at all times. We need our friends, our family, our buddies, our peers, not just our partners. That is true in pregnancy as well. I find each time that the web of all my relationships is weighted in new ways when I become pregnant. New stories come out, new relationships come to the fore. Some people step back a pace, where we do not intersect or resonate on what we want from our experiences or what we value most. Other threads in that web, formerly only tangential, snap taut with the sudden realization that we are both 'on the same planet' - they have resources I need, or experiences in common, or have words of comfort or wisdom to share.
But the resources I rely on don't even stop there. I have family, too. I expected to rely on my mom. I didn't expect to rely on my childless sisters - often more than the ones with children. I didn't expect to rely on my existing children as sources of energy and love, and I didn't expect to rely on my in-laws, either. But they've all come into the picture. They each add a strand of support, advice or history, resource or reassurance. More threads woven into that support system.
And then I discovered that you could also hire people to be resources outside of that. Birth educators, doulas, lactation consultants, hypnotherapists, counselors, spiritual guidance providers. Hey, now that's really useful. A big gap? A weak patch in my support? I can find someone who can help, someone who knows what I need to know, who can give what I lack, what my other supporters lack.
Beyond that, there are the not-in-person supports, from books, and from the internet. My birth cohort on StorkNet, the women in the PAILS and Support for Losses forums, the women in the AP forum. some of whom, again, are more background than foreground, and others who are more foreground suddenly now that I'm pregnant again. From them I find the reassurance that I'm not nuts, that other women feel the way I do, that we're all in it together. More and more threads move in and out of the pattern, some for just a short span, others going on and on (in a good way!).
There are a lot of layers to my support system. There are many people who, through mere presence in my life, will help me bear a small portion of the burden of shepherding another life into the world, through the months ahead, and beyond. Where I have gaps in 'real life', I fill in with books or websites or online peers. Where I feel a stronger need, I seek out a professional guide or support. Where I need something more personal and with longer history, I turn to my siblings or in-laws, or my mother. Where more vitality and concreteness is needed, I find my children stepping in.
Through it all, the main structures are still those first places that I thought I'd find all I needed. my husband, my midwives. But woven back and forth through and between those structures are threads of different strengths and colors, coming from all sorts of backgrounds and histories, making a grid that is strong and flexible, more a fabric than a spider web - not something sticky that I will just get tangled in, but something on which to lean, to find comfort and support.
Realizing how many resources I have, and how varied, and how able, and how flexible. that's the best birthday present, both for me, and one I'm glad to share with the baby I'm growing.
Happy birthday to us. and to my new nephew (who was born just before I sent this in - welcome to the world, Ian, and may your life provide as rich and strong a fabric of support as you require).